State of Indiana recognizes March as Disability Awareness Month

The Chamber of Commerce would like to welcome guest blogger, Peter Ciancone, Executive Director of The WILL Center. 

The State of Indiana recognizes March as Disability Awareness Month

As an advocate, a family member, and a friend of many people with disabilities, I accept one month as an awareness tool as long as it brings people to a greater understanding of what disability really means.

For many of us, every day is disability awareness day. The Americans with Disabilities Act defines “person with a disability” as a person having a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more life activities, has a record of such impairment and is regarded as having such impairment, but that isn’t the only definition out there. The Social Security Administration has a different one. The Department of Justice uses another to define discrimination. The independent living philosophy, which drives The WILL Center, has another.

Some of us are born with disability. Others come to the condition through accident or illness. And as we age, each of us will experience the changes in our bodies or our lives that may one day qualify us as a person with a disability, so this awareness has broad personal and societal implications.
People with disabilities comprise about 20 percent of the world’s population. It is the world’s largest minority group, one that does not discriminate on any basis: not gender, not race, not religion, not age.

But disability does not define who we are. We are people first. If I could embed one thought as a result of this awareness month, it’s that. We are people first.

The Wabash Independent Living & Learning Center, Inc., d.b.a. The WILL Center, is a private, not-for-profit, non-residential independent living center whose mission is to empower people with disabilities to ensure that they have full and complete access to community resources to promote their independence. We are local people joined together to improve our community.
The majority of our staff are people with disabilities. A majority of our Board of Directors are people with disabilities. That is by design. We assume people with disabilities have a clearer, more complete understanding of the world of such challenges.

We are tasked to provide five core services: Information & Referral, Skills
Training, Peer Support/Peer Mentoring, Advocacy and Transition. This is only a glimpse of what we do, because how we do it is essential to who we are. We are consumer driven, meaning we do not provide people with a menu and ask them to choose. People come to us, self-identify as a person with a disability, then share with us their interests and goals. We then work alongside these individuals to empower their aspirations.

The WILL Center is funded primarily through contracts with Indiana’s Family
Social Service Administration, so the work we do to provide the five core services is free of charge to those who come to us. But we do much more. We work with partners and volunteers to build wheelchair ramps. We provide assistive technology to those who cannot afford it or for whom no benefit exists to provide it. We look to build community by empowering individuals.
We can always use the help. Learn more about what disability means to the people who live it. Listen to their thoughts and concerns. Don’t be afraid if they offer criticism of the way the world is working against them.

Join us as a volunteer. We build wheelchair ramps in the summer. The carpentry is simple (if I can do it, so can you) and the impact for individuals is awe-inspiring. Donate. As an organization, we are constantly balancing the need to fundraise with the work we do for others. We can’t have the latter without the former.

Call us at (812) 298-9455, or visit us at www.thewillcenter.org. You can also find us on Facebook.

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